No Churning on China

No churning on China

Situation awareness is a prime tactical, operational and strategic level military attribute and also, one assumes, a quality equally prized by politicians who need to be sensitive about every fold in an unravelling situation. In the military sphere, situation awareness has hardware and software components. Sensors of all kinds on land, sea and air-borne platforms and satellites, such as radars, infra-red and high resolution photo-imagery, etc. comprise the hardware. Common sense accounts for the basic software and demands nothing more than an awareness of the world around us. The year 2012 ended with evidence of the different levels of this awareness at which the Indian government and the individual armed services find themselves.

But first let’s set the context. In 2009, the defence minister issued an operational directive to the three services headquarters stating, reasonably, that China was the country’s main security threat. The directive thus issued required the military to now wheel their big guns, ships and aircraft China-ward. Three years on this hasn’t happened. The Army and the Air Force continue to concentrate their effort on the Western border; the Navy likewise, but less conspicuously, justifies its “North Arabian Sea” tilt, except it now touts piracy as an operational consideration. In effect, the Indian military’s effort and capabilities are majorly tuned to dealing with the inconvenience posed by Pakistan, which in reality is more a nuisance than a genuine military threat. (True, a militarily inferior adversary can effectively utilise terrorism, but to squash a pestiferous fly an elephant gun may be inappropriate, given the potential collateral damage, when a rolled-up newspaper — targeted intelligence operations — may serve the purpose better.) It means that the military is willfully ignoring a straightforward order from the government perhaps because it finds it hard to tear away from the rationale that the Pakistan threat provides for the plains warfare-heavy weapons profile — in particular, vast armoured and mechanised formations and an inventory full of short-legged and medium-range aircraft — of the services. But also because when the armed forces look around, they see a government that, far from walking the talk, seeks desperately to placate Beijing, striving at every turn to remove from the official Chinese mind even smidgeons of doubt about New Delhi’s “peaceful” intentions. Zhongnanhai (the complex of building in central Beijing housing the Chinese policy establishment) has only to raise its eyebrow for the Indian government to fall to its knees, ready to kowtow to China.

But reality has to be faced and, much as everybody would like to keep bashing the Pakistanis, there’s China to be reckoned with. Rapidly enlarging itself, its political role, its military capabilities, its presence in the extended areas far from its home shores, China now demands attention. The question is not whether or not to appease China because India’s record in the last few years is damning enough. Going back in history, reacting to the first calls by Hitler for amalgamation of Czech Sudentenland into Germany — a brazen grab at lebensraum (territorial space for the natural expansion of a vigorous nation) — was deemed prudent politics in the mid-1930s but tipped over into unacceptable appeasement at Munich in 1939 by Neville Chamberlain, who promised “peace in our time”. Nobody now contends that Munich was anything else than abject surrender. Historical parallels are often loosely discerned, but the similarities between the Sudentenland crisis and the Chinese claims on almost all of the free seas off the southern Chinese coast, a pitch for a maritime lebensraum no less, cannot be missed. The best spin one can put on New Delhi’s China policy is that the Congress Party is too scared to spell out India’s strategic stakes, and too blinded by its desire to buy time with an authoritarian-state capitalist system in Beijing to consider the costs of doing so.

It is in this setting that the year-ending incident involving the two service Chiefs makes for stark evidence of appeasement at work. Naval Chief Adm. D.K. Joshi’s warning that any attempt by Chinese vessels to board Indian warships would be thwarted with counter-actions that the Indian Navy has been practising was instantly negated by New Delhi attempting to first compel Adm. Joshi to backtrack, failing which for national security adviser Shivshankar Menon, in Beijing at the time, to emphasise cravenly the need to respect Chinese “sensitivities” and to issue a curious statement saying Adm. Joshi was “misled” by the press. Predictably, the ministry of external affairs piled on, urging “restraint” on the Indian military. The Army Chief, Gen. Bikram Singh, then stepped in helpfully with the kind of statement the government presumably welcomes. Disregarding geostrategics and the 450-odd trans-border military “incidents” that took place on the disputed India-China border last year, he pronounced Sino-Indian relations to be “absolutely perfect”, thereby revealing the senior service’s alarming lack of situation awareness. Gen. Singh seemingly bought into the government line, which is content with pointing faintly at the foe but not keen for the armed services to follow up with appropriate measures, like taking their main bearings from a manifestly more dangerous and challenging enemy, China, and moving away from the near-idiotic military preoccupation with Pakistan, an idée fixe that has over the years reduced the regional and international reputation and standing of the Indian armed forces.

Governments come and go, but the great Indian military is the nation’s constant guardian and in lieu of a strategic mindset of the government, it is the armed forces that need to develop one and order their priorities accordingly. Because when push comes to shove with China, the Indian politicians and bureaucrats will not be there to take the blame.

[Published January 4, 2013 in the Asian Age at and in the Deccan Chronicle at ]

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Cyber & Space, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Pakistan, Pakistan military, South Asia, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to No Churning on China

  1. RV says:

    I admire Adm. D. K. Joshi for saying that he primarily wanted the naval LCA, and the JSF can “get stuffed” (though not in so many words). This is in sharp contrast to the shameless conduct of his IAF counterparts. In light of Karnad’s earlier warnings of the possible culling of the Agni-5 program to please the West, among other signals which point in that direction, the delay in the second test launch of the Agni-5 is deeply troubling. The Agni-5 is not China-specific as improperly touted by the sold out Indian media, but a deterrent to any enemy 5,000-8500 Kms. away. The appointment of John Kerry is another deeply troubling factor. Undoubtedly, the coolie Indian government will be under intense pressure to demilitarize Siachen. Any self-respecting Nation would make statements by its citizens advocating the vacating of Siachen and the Saltoro ridge an act of treason and sedition. In light of Pakistan’s recent perfidious deals concerning Gilgit-Balistan, the Siachen sector acquires immense strategic value. However, such acts demonstrating self-respect are too much to ask for a government and senior bureaucracy staffed by criminals and domestic servants.

  2. forget a China policy,we are still tongue tied to articulate our security concerns.

  3. RV says:

    Mr. Karnad, your statements: “The best spin one can put on New Delhi’s China policy is that the Congress Party is too scared to spell out India’s strategic stakes, and too blinded by its desire ….” are akin to looking at the world through a keyhole.

    I can provide you with the gross details of umpteen instances where Indian politicians, political parties (notably the INC), and senior bureaucrats have exhibited not only the very same, but even more craven and treasonous conduct that you describe above more in dealings with the USA and it’s allies, rather than with any other nation.

    These include but are not limited to scuttling indigenous strategic programs, mortgaging Indian sovereign rights, strategic interests, assets, and long term strategic economic goals to lobbies/interest groups comprising of and promoted by persons who have not only abetted, lauded, and sponsored heinous acts of terror and genocide against India and its citizens over decades, but have even given protection and safe haven to the perpetrators of such crimes against humanity! The current near-total disintegration of India’s national fabric is a consequence of what I have described above, and not because of any other factor!

    For example, the recent rash of Church-sponsored acts of war against the Indian State, and highly dubious Church activities sponsored by the USA and it’s allies in regions of India which are either strategically located, possess strategic assets, or possess strategically vital natural resources seems to go unnoticed by the so-called Indian strategic community and the sold-out Indian media. This silence is tantamount to connivance either of an explicit or an implicit nature. It should be borne in mind that when the numbers of the “flock” crosses a critical level, there is often very little to differentiate between the filth, hatred, falsehood, disinformation, and provocation of violence emanating from a Church, than that emanating from a Salafist/Wahabist madrassa!

    • RV says:

      The last sentence in the above post should read:

      “It should be borne in mind that when the numbers of the “flock” crosses a critical level, there is often very little to differentiate between the filth, hatred, falsehood, disinformation, and provocation of violence emanating from a Church, from that emanating from a Salafist/Wahabist madrassa!”

  4. If the suthor has read sun tzu then he would be advised to bide his time before making any comments the need to shoot off one’s mouth in a brazen manner. there is a time to speak and a time to build up one’s capabilities. bare scabbard sabre rattling will only result in a 62 type fiasco. Bide your time and bolster your defences and build up capabilities to be able to give either of our adversaries a bloody nose, at least we shouild learn from our neighbours to keep quiet as they did throughout the 80s and 90s. Wise man is the one whose bat does does the talking

    • Sun Tzu also advises a great number of other things that need to be done to keep the adverasaries on their toes even as one builds up one’s military capabilities — as China did — for instance, in coopting neighbours and creating extended circles of friendly states as a cordon sanitaire. One has only to consider the period of “the warring kingdoms” in Chinese history to know just how Sun Tzu’s precepts can be applied in real life situations. Besides, against a strategic, economic, and geopolitical rival such as China, no Service HQrs or Govt in Delhi will ever deem any level of capability sufficient and adequate. In the event, India will keep “preparing”for the Game even as it will have long since ended to our permanent detriment.

      • RV says:

        Mr. Karnad, WRT your statement: “Besides, against a strategic, economic, and geopolitical rival such as China, no Service HQrs or Govt in Delhi will ever deem any level of capability sufficient and adequate.”, I humbly bring to your exalted attention that such a capability you talk of can be developed against any potential adversary without the CoAS “flapping his lips” in public. There’s nothing in any classical text on strategy which even remotely suggests that the development of a credible war fighting capability has to be accompanied by impotent warlike rhetoric, way before this hypothetical capability is attained!

      • True, but consider that the army expenditure priorities do not match up with the China threat orientation. So the conlusion must be that the army’d rather flog a beaten horse more severely than face a truer challenge.

    • RV says:

      Strictly going by his comment: “absolutely perfect”, for which even his sobriety at the time of this utterance have been questioned, Gen. Bikram Singh appears to have understood more about Sun Tzu’s theories than the adjudicating and all knowing “great strategist” who claims to have read Sun Tzu. Sun Tzu’s works are replete with suggestions on the use of deception, which certain folks have either missed, ignored, or have chosen to ignore.

  5. RV says:

    Mr. Karnad,

    Let’s look at it this way. In the 1980’s and 90’s, though the PLA was in shambles (especially after the Vietnam incident) and the PLAAF and PLAN used outmoded equipment, the PRC had a demonstrated thermonuclear capability, the means to deliver it anywhere it chose to, and the will to do so if push came down to shove. Further, the PRC had demonstrated its credentials by militarily confronting both the US and the USSR. OTOH, Gen. Bikram Singh is certainly well aware of the pathetic state of India’s so-called nuclear deterrent and the caliber of persons on whom the onus would fall to order the use of this deterrent. He’s also well aware that the Indian power structure is largely made up of two classes of low life forms-US lackeys& rent boys, and, those who desperately want to be US lackeys&rent boys.

    Gen. Bikram Singh knows he’s desperately short on artillery. The morale of the Indian army is in tatters as demonstrated by recent incidents in the Ladakh sector, the air power at his disposal is rapidly dwindling at an alarming rate and the situation has been further gravely and irreparably jeopardized by what will be one of the worlds biggest military procurement scandals when the truth finally breaks out. He also knows that half the army rightly or wrongly believes he’s unfit for the job. You have talked about the “period of the warring kingdoms”, so I assume you must/should know what Sun Tzu did. He attacked the opposition where and when they least expected an attack. Gen. Bikram Singh knows that he cannot do this without three MSC’s and adequate offensive air support, items which he knows he will never get under the present regime of quislings.

    In short, he knows the type of Nation he is entrusted to defend. Eventually, much of it comes down to the pathetic state of India’s nuclear deterrent, the coolies and quislings who brought matters to this state, and the lack of respect India shows for itself and for Indian lives as demonstrated by the Italian marines who are on trial for murder being allowed to go to Italy to spend Christmas holidays. In fact, this raises a serious legal precedence should an undertrial in Tihar wish to spend Diwali with his family, and is something which needs to be taken up by the legal and judicial community!

    Given the above facts, Oh “Great Strategist”, Gen. Bikram Singh should be cut some slack for some stray utterances, and instead, the true criminals-MMS (and his immediate coterie) and SG + family be thoroughly exposed, deposed, and disposed of (preferably being made part of chain gang).

    • Thankyou for supporting my position I have held to consistently, and advocated strongly, from my days in NSAB and helping draft the N-doctrine in 1998-99 that having a tested, proven, and credible thermonuclear arsenal is the ultimate defence, and we better procure it at whatever cost. Whence my campaign for resumption of testing, ever since the moratorium decision was announced May 28, 1998, by PM Vajpayee. The absence of credible strategic weaponry, however, is in no direct way connected with the wrong-footedness of the army in its conventional military build-up and preparedness regimes.

      • RV says:

        Why should I be thanked, Oh Great Strategist, for stating the harsh truth. Eventually, everything comes back to the absence of a credible thermonuclear deterrent. However, I disagree with you that the issues concerning the absence of a credible strategic deterrent and the build-up of conventional muscle are orthogonal to each other.

        I believe both have the same roots – the absence of a moral compass, crass dishonesty bordering on delusion, appalling ignorance, and, moral and mental gangrene in the Indian corridors of powers. In addition to this is that most self-destructive and delusional quality seen in many Indians, i.e tokenism.

        This is the belief that the mere haphazard conception (or misconception) of some vague idea followed up by some measly and/or bogus token acts (such as the Shakti tests and/or some token missile launches) equate to successfully completing and achieving a vital stated objective, which in reality requires formidable will power, tenacity, guts, consistency, and dedication to accomplish in the face of any and all odds. But then again, what can one expect from a people who obtained their so-called independence through a mere transfer of power, and lying on railway tracks all at the behest of a deluded “half-naked fakir”?

  6. RV says:

    Mr. Karnad,

    I have some questions which I humbly place before your exalted self with a request they be answered by a “great strategist and fountain of wisdom such as yourself:

    1. If the Indians are so ashamed of the happenings of 1962, then why don’t they treat it the same way the Israeli’s treat Masada, where members of the IDF who have completed their Tirnout go to Masada and take the oath: “Masada will not fall again”? Instead, why did the Indians “forget” to honor the fallen martyrs of 1962 for 50 years, and when they finally did so, it was only part of some cheap political gimmick!

    2. Why is there no memorial for these martyrs, when every town, city, and village in India is polluted by memorials to some criminal or the other. Instead, the only memorial to the martyrs who fell in the battle of the Namka Chu consists of a decrepit tin shed in the small village of Lumpu, on the track leading to the Hathung La pass.

    3. If the Indians are so ashamed of the “shellacking” they received in 1962, then why the chief perpetrator, Nehru, not only NOT punished, but his dynasty (now led by an Italian woman who has no commonality whatsoever with the vast majority of the Indian masses and whose perfidy knows no bounds), is still allowed to decide on the fate of 1 billion+ people?

    I believe that the above issues are far more relevant than that “most serious crime in your eyes” committed by Gen. Bikram Singh who said that Indo-Chinese relations are “absolutely perfect”. Answers to the above will also provide some insights as to why much of the world treats India in the same way as a dog treats a lamp post or a fire hydrant!

  7. RV says:

    Mr. Karnad,

    I gather that preparation for an integrated MSC are going on (in Indian Standard Time), with its HQ in W. Bengal. I’ve also heard that there is talk of the raising of two independent Brigades (one in the Ladakh sector and the other, if I correctly recall in Uttarakhand). Would these two independent brigades have strike capabilities? Specifically, would they in essence be truncated MSC’s with anti-aircraft assets, attack helicopters, etc.? I believe that the ongoing activities concerning Gilgit-Balistan would necessitate the acquisition of such a capability.

  8. RV says:

    Mr. Karnad,

    After checking up, I gather that the two independent brigades that will be raised will be armored brigades. Though this is a welcome move (if it happens), I do believe that the absence of a mountain strike brigade or an air assault brigade, at the very least, especially in the Ladakh sector might turn out to be a very serious error.

  9. RV says:

    Mr. Karnad,

    If I am not mistaken, the underlying premise of the N-doctrine was that the Indian arsenal would substantially comprise of proven TN weapons. It was charlatans and frauds like KS, actively supported by Brajesh Mishra and the rest, who diluted this fundamental premise and found nirvana in the popgun 15-20 kt types.

  10. Rohan says:

    Excellent article!
    In the 1999 Kargil Conflict the IAF found itself with the prospect of having to conduct high level operations against isolated surface forces armed with MANPADS in heavy mountain terrain, and had to improvise its arsenal and techniques in the matter of weeks to deal with this new threat.

    In the ensuing aftermath of the Kargil conflict a lot of praise was heaped on the IAF for its stellar role in the battle – but there was never enough emphasis on the main question that should have been asked: Why hadn’t the IAF already developed a doctrine for such a conflict?

    And even today as we look towards a threat from China, i wonder if the IAF has in place sufficient operational plans to deal with a wide variety of scenarios arising from a conflict with China. can we effectively support our troops in a high altitude high intensity war with China in the Himalayas? Do we have the ability to conduct raids on Tibet? Do we know what we’re going to do if twenty squadrons of the PLAAF descend on us from Yunnan over Myanmar airspace? Does the IAF have the capability to fly out and attack a carrier battle group mid ocean far away from shore support?

    Its easy to say that some of these scenarios are ‘unlikely’, but then history doesn’t always take likely routes, and geopolitical scenarios are likely to change faster than it takes to procure new weapons and training doctrines.

    Does the IAF have the training and doctrine to deal at moment’s notice with exactly with scenarios?

    I wonder so. After decades of thinking exclusively in terms of how to fight a Pakistani attack in the Thar desert, we still have just two squadrons of Su30MKIs deployed in Assam, and an array of cold war era radars that are completely useless in the face of the mountain terrain and ridge borders in these sectors. And there are the cold war era SAM batteries providing point defence for a few areas. Why aren’t a couple of AWACS located at Calcutta, instead of having them millions of miles away in Agra? Why aren’t there aerostat mounted radars deployed? Why aren’t more Su30 MKI squadrons deployed in this sector to provide rapid response instead of having them deployed at Pune?

    I think the answer lies in the fact that Indians are trained to follow precedent, not think and set new precedent.

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